Art

Painting Home, When It Won’t Let You Stay

In her first major solo show in London, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s paintings recall the all too familiar diasporic experience of being foreign in both places you call home.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Family Portrait (2017) acrylic and oil on canvas (2 panels) (courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery)

What happens to your memory of a place when you are forced to leave it? In her first institutional solo show at Gasworks in London, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami traces the journey from her current home in London to her birthplace in Zimbabwe, which she left due to political instability. 

Presenting a mix of both large-scale and smaller, more intimate paintings, Hwami references a recent trip to Zimbabwe where she spent time living with a traditional healer. In her works Hwami depicts spiritual healers and medicine men, referencing collages she made from both family photographs and images found online. The resulting paintings reflect on her uprooting from London and re-grounding in Zimbabwe, as aspects of her British identity combine with her Zimbabwean heritage on the canvas.  

Left: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, “Newtown” (2019), oil on canvas, 70.86 x 59.05 inches, commissioned by Gasworks (courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery, photo by Andy Keate); Right: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, “Bira” (2019), oil on canvas, 70.86 x 59.05 inches, commissioned by Gasworks (courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery, photo by Andy Keate)

Hwami’s works also reflect on the experience  of feeling othered in a place that should be home. Her paintings are fragmented and broken up, with some figures painted on top of photographs, while others are scribbled out. In works like Bira (2019) and Newtown (2019) multiple references are layered together; figures appear on top of maps and photographs that have been collaged together to form a background. Often these works are based on digital collages produced on a tablet, reminding us that much of what Hwami once saw of her birthplace on a regular basis was through a backlit screen.

Installation view of Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1, 2019 at Gasworks (courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery, photo by Andy Keate)

In addition to these large paintings, a smaller series entitled Speaking In Tongues is also on display. The works reference Shona spirituality, while also referencing the square images that dominate social media, providing a perfectly “curated” glimpse of a home away from home. 

Hwami’s works comment both on displacement and an attempt at reconciliation. Reflecting on lived experiences as well as family photographs, the paintings at Gasworks recall the all too familiar diasporic experience of being foreign in both places you call home.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Lotus, 2018. Oil and acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1 continues at Gasworks, 155 Vauxhall Street, London SE11 5RH through  December 15, 2019.

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